Tove Jansson: The True Deceiver, Art in Nature

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How delightful to find two books of Tove Jansson’s writing for adults.

Those with children may know her Moomin books, tales about Moomintroll and his Moominpappa and Moominmamma. They look a bit like white hippos and even though they are trolls, they have mild kind dispositions. My own Nervous Nellie was never completely convinced of their benevolence, and bad dreams about trolls necessitated their removal from our bed-time reading.
Jansson began to write and publish adult fiction only in her fifties. The True Deceiver (in Swedish The Honest Swindler) was published in Swedish in 1982 and in English, translated by Thomas Teal, in 2009. In 2011 it won the Best Translated Book Award. Now published in an attractive little paper-back by Sort Of Books it is a perfect antidote to the weighty tomes we’ve been reading lately.
The story concerns the life of the ordinary, a remote village, with its insiders and outsiders, kindness and cruelty. Katri Kling and her brother Mats are outsiders; he is simple and she is a tough loner with yellow eyes. Her care is focused upon her brother, and her plans and dreams are all for him. She has a dog and makes him live the life of a dog, well under her control. It is clear she despises those who anthropomorphise animals. And thus the great dilemma of her life. She weaves her way into the life of a wealthy older woman, a writer and artist, Anna Aemelin, and this relationship, which she has created for Mats, challenges every belief she has lived by.
In the small compass of these two hundred pages a powerful struggle enacts itself and it is hard to say who wins out in the end. Has Katri lost everything or achieved her aim? Has Anna found the freedom to practise her art as she wants? Has her life view triumphed over Katri’s?
Here is the opening paragraph:
It was an ordinary dark winter morning, and snow was still falling No window in the village showed light. Katri screened the lamp so she wouldn’t wake her brother while she made coffee and put the thermos beside his bed. The room was very cold. The big dog lay by the door and looked at her with his nose between his paws, waiting for her to take him out.
So clear and honest, it drew me in immediately.

The short stories in Art in Nature show quite a wild imagination. I read one a night in bed before sleep and found them perfect to read in this way. From the first story where an elderly curator of an art exhibition turns the tables on a pretentious couple, through the tale of three aging women on a night out, to a strange loner obsessed with trains and timetables, I found them all at turns amusing and chilling. Elegant and different, these stories are not everyone’s cup of tea, but certainly mine.

6 thoughts on “Tove Jansson: The True Deceiver, Art in Nature

  1. I grew up with the Moomin books as they were passed around amongst the children on my mother’s side of the family. They’re such a delight. It’s been a while since I read any of her work for adults, but it’s only a matter of time before I pick her up again. Have you read The Summer Book? If not, I think it might be of interest to you.

  2. I’m not familiar with this author and her writing and have never heard of the Moomin books but the opening paragraph that you gave us was very descriptive. I have been there before.

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